Get Thee to a Bakery opens with the title essay, in which Rick Bailey recounts his somewhat misguided attempt to clean the gutters in flip-flops—much to the consternation of his wife. While perilously perched at the edge of his ladder, Bailey ponders others who have fallen off ladders. He imagines himself “falling to the ground like an overripe fruit” while wondering, “would the ferns and hostas break my fall,” perhaps even “on a cushion of green leaves and fragrant mulch and dry cottonwood leaves.” As he leans farther to clean the clog of cottonwood leaves, his mind continues to wander, this time to pumpkin pie—Bailey’s reward for completing his task at hand. This then leads him to integrated research on the traditional American Thanksgiving pie’s history and, ultimately, to the origin of nutmeg.
The essay collection is filled with Bailey’s meandering mind. He explores wine and food, culture and language, marriage and aging, reading and teaching, and having curiosity and questioning life’s quips. The author has a knack for beginning his essays with one topic, then widely branching out before finding his way back to the original topic by way of connecting seemingly unrelated subjects. What Bailey lacks in stylistic range, though, he makes up for in subject matter, reflecting on a host of issues from climate change to the decline of insects in various ecosystems.
Bakery is presented in memoir style, centered around the author’s own life. Each essay piggybacks off the preceding one and appears to be situated chronologically, as many details from one piece are mentioned again in a subsequent essay. Bailey often inserts himself into his essays, the subjects of which range from learning to appreciate life’s little gifts—like the laughing door at the local Kroger—to comparing wine tasting scores and the similarities of grading essays on a scale from A to E. Bailey is continually asking questions about the world he perceives, some of which his readers may have asked themselves. Take rating wine, for example. Bailey writes, “Suppose the wine you’re tasting is a 92. I wonder: What would make it a 91? A little less pliability? What would make it a 93? A slightly larger slice of cherry pie? This may be an example of effing in ineffable. How do you quantify a qualitative judgment?” Bailey’s curiosity is contagious, as he sprinkles just enough facts into his narrative to pique the readers’ interest and leave them wanting to learn more. His wit, articulation, and expressiveness easily turn his experiences into humorous situations.
In “The Efficacy of Loud,” Bailey recounts a failed bathroom encounter in Shanghai, in which his lack of language skills soon places him in a rather awkward situation. He peers at two women standing at the sink, then begins trying to explain himself by way of the two phrases in Chinese that he knows: please and thank you. After an extended sequence of pleases and thank yous, rather than the preferred excuse me, Bailey concludes, “I may be stupid, but at least I’m polite about it.”
Even though humor is Bailey’s primary technique in attracting the reader’s attention, on occasion he relies upon research to engage with more serious topics. “Monsters” provides insight into the potential worldwide decline of insects in relation to changing ecosystems, rising temperatures, habitat loss, and the lack of bug rights. He delves into the role people play in threatening bugs’ lives with our obsessive overuse of pesticides and insecticides in our own backyards and beyond. The author recalls the number of insects that used to “tick, smack, and splat… against the windshield” on the drive to northern Michigan during his childhood years compared to the lack of squashed bugs he now sees on the same drive. He questions the “balance between man and nature” and asks, “How will we protect bugs from ourselves?”
Although “Monsters” is forthright in its content, other essays in the collection often indicate subtle hints revolving around climate change, the world’s abuse of nature, and what it means to be better both to nature and to humankind. Rather than forcing such topics onto his audience through research-heavy essays, Bailey simply alludes to the fact that readers must pay attention to the world beyond his pages. As a reader looking for a lighter read, I appreciate Bailey’s collection. With a similar style and voice to New York Times bestselling author Michael Perry, Rick Bailey’s essay collection is rich and refreshing, fun and jubilant, and an overall joy to read.
About the Reviewer
Stephanie Nesja is currently working toward earning her MA in writing at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. She mainly focuses on creative nonfiction essays but writes the occasional short story.